Oct. 26 (UPI) — Elite British Naval forces “fast-roped” from helicopters to storm a crude oil tanker in the English Channel on Sunday and arrested seven stowaways the crew believed planned to hijack the ship.
The operation took nine minutes, authorities said.
Crew members aboard the Liberian-registered Nave Andromeda had contacted police in Hampshire on Sunday morning to report that people who had concealed themselves onboard the ship had made “verbal threats” after being detained on board.
The British minister of defense’s office confirmed Sunday night that members of the Special Boat Service had boarded the ship and taken people into custody.
“In response to a police request, the defense secretary and home secretary authorized Armed Forces personnel to board a ship in the English Channel to safeguard life and secure a ship that was subject to suspected hijacking,” the department said in a statement, adding that police investigations would continue.
“Initial reports confirm the crew are safe and well,” the department said.
The stowaways were believed to have boarded in Nigeria when the boat was docked at Lagos, Richard Meade, editor of the shipping website Lloyd’s List, told The Independent.
“[The stowaways] were discovered by the crew and while they were trying to detain them in a cabin they got violent,” Meade said.
The 748-ft. tanker Nave Andromeda, owned by Greek shipping company Navios, had set out from Lagos in early October with a 22-member crew, and was scheduled to dock in Southampton on Sunday to pick up a cargo shipment of gasoline. But the ship’s path began to change erratically as it passed the Isle of Wight, and law enforcement on shore was contacted.
From a base nearby in Poole, Dorset, members of the British Navy’s elite boat service used two Navy Merlin and two Navy Wildcat helicopters to take control of the tanker, sliding down ropes from helicopters onto the ship, the Guardian reported. Navy divers also were deployed to check whether the ship had been mined, officials told the BBC, but it had not.
Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defense Committee, praised the boarding of the tanker as a “good outcome.”
“Seven stowaways on board taking over a ship or causing the ship not to be in full command would have triggered a multi-agency alarm and then well-rehearsed classified protocols were put into action,” Ellwood said.